Makeover for Japan’s Security Strategy

Japan Air Defense

China’s military expansion, North Korea’s nuclear power and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have all propelled Japan to revise its National Security Strategy (NSS) in terms of taking a tougher stance on being able to improve its capabilities to defend itself from threat. Japan’s National Security Strategy was revised on December 16, turning away from its long-time pacifist constraints to grapple with security threats. The new strategy views China as an immediate and greatest challenge and threat to the security and peace of Japan.

Counterstrike Capabilities and Defense Spending

One of the notable changes in the revised security strategy is that of aiming to possess counterstrike capabilities to forestall an enemy attack and two, increasing the defense budget to 2 percent of the GDP over five years (by 2027) to protect itself from rampant risks from China, Russia, and North Korea. A concept of comprehensive security was developed in the 1970s by the then-Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira and emphasized the broader scope of security to encompass non-traditional and non-military domains. In recent years, the security environment around Japan has become severe due to which Tokyo is attempting to move towards a comprehensive approach with a major focus on robust military capabilities, technological innovation, and economic statecraft.

The possession of counterstrike capabilities is important for Japan as it aims at achieving certain capabilities to defeat invasions. Japan’s current interceptor missile defense system is quite inefficient in deterring North Korean missiles. It is further believed that the use of counterstrike capability is constitutional as it would be in response to an imminent enemy attack. However, opponents feel that this would be against Japan’s notion of a pacifist constitution as the same weapons can also be used offensively. The Kishida government has addressed such concerns by stating that the new strategy does not allow for pre-emptive strikes. Japan also considers counterstrike capabilities as a powerful conventional deterrent to countries that have made advances in missile-related technologies. The counterstrike capability would also prepare Japan for an integrated air and missile defense system by strengthening its tracking and interception capabilities.

Japan’s security strategy aims to double defense spending to around 2 percent of its GDP, which is about 43 trillion yen. This defense spending target would push Japan’s annual budget to around 10 trillion yen. Japan has targeted to purchase the U.S.-made Tomahawks and also the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles along with the development of hypersonic weapons. Japan has also decided to ensure cybersecurity at Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (SDF) and the defense industry, which will work toward the efficient launching of long-range cruise missiles. This five-year plan of increasing Japan’s defense spending would make it the world’s third biggest military spender after the United States and China.

Turning Point for Regional Security

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida remarked that the National Security Strategy is at a turning point which is vital for protecting the nation. North Korea has recently tested its ballistic missiles several times and also sent one over Japan. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Japan to take a stance towards an assertive foreign policy. The Biden Administration has welcomed Japan’s new security strategy as one that will bolster the U.S.-Japan alliance. The NSS too referred to the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of Japan’s security policy.

Furthermore, Japan is deepening its security partnerships with other like-minded countries to counter China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region and the world. Japan’s new strategy and its consideration of China and Russia as threats have yet again made the Quad grouping a relevant one. The NSS has shown that the re-balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is vital by describing the grave threat posed by Beijing. China’s military activities are of concern to Japan and the entire international community, due to which it is required that Japan respond comprehensively in cooperation with its allies and like-minded countries. The revised NSS depicts a drastic change from Japan’s 2013 NSS in which Japan attempted to enhance a mutually beneficial relationship with China.

China has intensified its aggressive moves around Taiwan and peace in the Taiwan Strait is important for Japan as well as the Indo-Pacific region. China has further vowed to unify Taiwan by force if needed and increased its military pressure on the island. Beijing’s military activities became evident in August 2022 when it fired five ballistic missiles inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone near the Okinawa prefecture. The acquisition of long-range missiles such as the Tomahawk would change the dynamics in East Asia with a stronger U.S.-Japan alliance after AUKUS. The revision of the NSS is a bold step for Japan which would also help in strengthening the free and open Indo-Pacific region.

The revision of Japan’s security strategy is also beneficial for India as this would further deepen defense cooperation between the two countries as Japan may now share its high-end technology and intelligence with India. Both India and Japan have a common threat: China, due to Beijing’s continuous military tensions with India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the People Liberation Army’s firing missiles into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Japan’s new NSS aims at acquiring credible deterrence capabilities and further expanding Japan’s role within the U.S.-Japan alliance, which would also help in strengthening its position in the Indo-Pacific region.